Seahawks fans have vigorously argued the quarterback position, and, in turn, how pathetic the team is (after the Week 1 loss to Arizona) or how powerful it will be (after the Week 2 win over Dallas).
One unit has spurred no debate: the defense. The only question in some minds is whether it’s on the way to being the best in franchise history.
Although the Hawks are only two weeks into the 2012 season, their defensive success in 2011 makes such a progression a valid discussion.
Ten starters return off the defense that was one of the statistically best in team history, ranking No. 9 in yards and No. 7 in scoring. And the starters’ average age of 26 makes it among the youngest in the league.
After two weeks, the Hawks rank sixth in offensive yards allowed, second in rush defense and third in scoring defense. And that’s with five players in their first or second years of starting.
“So many guys are more aware and communicating better and adding to the overall effort in many ways other than their own personal play,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We have a chance to really improve.”
In 36 previous seasons, the Hawks have finished in the top 10 of the defensive rankings only six times, whereas they’ve been 20th or worse 22 times.
Two early indicators of improvement this season:
• Against Arizona, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a twice-a-year nightmare for the Seahawks, was limited to four catches for 63 yards.
• Last season the Cowboys gashed the Seattle defense for 163 rushing yards; on Sunday, they compiled only 49 against an unbending Seahawks front.
Seattle’s best statistical defense was the 1984 unit, which finished No. 6 overall and forced a stunning 63 turnovers (38 interceptions, 25 fumble recoveries), with Kenny Easley (10) and Dave Brown (eight) leading the team in interceptions.
Behind the pass-rush efforts of Jeff Bryant (141/2) and Jacob Green (13), they compiled 55 sacks.
Those were the early days of defensive leadership by brilliant coordinator Tom Catlin, who was considered responsible for an exceptional stretch when the Hawks had top-10 defenses from 1990-1992 even though the team was in steep decline.
The 1992 team’s ranking of 10th overall during a 2-14 season caused some analysts to call for Catlin being named the league’s coach of the year despite being just a coordinator.
The offense that season scored a historic-low 14 touchdowns, leaving the defense in bad field position and surely winded from getting scant rest as the offense stacked up three-and-outs.
That defense racked up 46 sacks – 14 from Cortez Kennedy.
Although the current secondary is young, it surely carries some of the earmarks of the Easley-Brown group that included John Harris and Keith Simpson.
Against Dallas, strong safety Kam Chancellor laid enough wicked hits that it likely contributed to the Cowboys receivers’ day of frequent drops.
“I think we hit five receivers in that game and hit every one of them legally and hit them hard,” Carroll said. “It had an impact on the playing in the next couple of plays.”
Against Arizona, second-year cornerback Richard Sherman made a horizontal, toe-tap sideline interception that could have been the equal of a Dave Brown effort of old.
Second-year linebacker K.J. Wright might have had his most impressive game against Dallas, being a factor in plays from sideline to sideline, once making an open-field tackle of Felix Jones in the flat for a 5-yard loss, then also racing 50 yards downfield in coverage of tight end Jason Witten.
Carroll also cited the interior line play of Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. The point is, he could have patted all of them on their backs.
An obvious omission right now, though, is the lack of sacks, as they’ve registered only two in two games. It was a point of emphasis coming into this season, and – especially in the Dallas game – defensive coordinator Gus Bradley put together some creative rush packages.
Although sacks didn’t result, Carroll said he considered the pressure on the quarterback much improved against Dallas.
The other area below standard is stopping third-down conversions. The Hawks have allowed opponents to convert 10 of 23 third downs.
The statistics fail to measure the physically intimidating play of this unit, which is its dominant characteristic. And in games at home, it inflames the fans, which, in turn, further energizes the players.
“The way we want to play is really tough, hard-nosed football,” Carroll said. “And we brought in guys to do that guys who run fast and hit.”
They certainly do perhaps to a historic email@example.com 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling